Absolutely The Best of Gospel Volume 2


            Gospel singers have great voices.  At least, the ones you hear about outside the local churches.  For performers of gospel music, the content may be heavenly, but the competition is fierce.  If singers can't project passion and spirit, no one besides their friends and family will want to listen.


            For this reason, when you look at the biographies or articles about so many of the most soulful secular singers, from Jerry Butler to Lou Rawls to R. Kelly, you'll see the phrase "began singing in church."  Singing gospel inspired them to sing to their fullest potential.


            The ranks of artists who "began singing in church" are legion.  Many continue to split their time between their sacred and secular musical endeavors.  Reverend Curtis Watson, represented here with "God's Love" is a noted trumpet player, working with such Louisiana legends as Buckwheat Zydeco and the Neville Brothers.


            Otis Clay, represented here with his deeply soulful versions of " When The Gates Swing Open," is best known as one of the kings of Memphis and Chicago soul, but as all the bios note, "Clay's vocal style reflects a gospel background."  Before 1965, that's all he performed, yet as a secular artist he inaugurated Atlantic records Cotillion deep soul imprint.  He did the original version of the Bob Seger hit "Trying to Live My Life Without You."


            More notoriously, Aretha Franklin began performing with her sisters in the Detroit church ministered over by her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin.  She began recording gospel music when she was 14 years old and continued in that vein until she was scouted by legendary Columbia A&R man John Hammond to start her secular singing career.  However, she would venture back to her gospel roots on albums for Chess (for which she recorded the heart-stopping Ó While The Blood Runs Warm In My Veins") and Atlantic.


            The Staple Singers story is even more interesting, as their founder Pops Staple began his performing career as a blues artist, a contemporary of such legends as Charlie Patton.  He didn't gravitate to the church until his early twenties.  He started singing and playing guitar for notable gospel groups like the Trumpet Jubilees.  Eventually, he brought his children into performing gospel music, and they became the Staple Singers, recording deep, soulful Southern gospel, with heavy blues overtones courtesy of his guitar.


            Conversely, as this album amply demonstrates pop and R&B styles informed modern gospel. "Lord DonŐt Move That Mountain," by Inez Andrews has an introduction that could be mistaken for blues classics like "Wang Dang Doodle."  Yet she remains one of the most vital voices in since the late 50s.


            A group of the same vintage, The Brooklyn Allstars are an award winning choir with two gold records to their credit (no small feat in the small world of gospel).  One of their biggest selling hits, "I Stood On The Banks of Jordan" shows why they were voted the number one gospel act in America through most of the 70s.


            To bring this full circle, listen to the amazing Albertina Walker sing "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow," and consider that such contemporary secular artists as Leann Rimes and Alison Krauss have been moved to record gospel records and include that song (in not-too-different versions).  That's power.


            Gospel music aims to inspire.  Even if you're not down with the message, you've got to be down with the voices.  Sit down, listen and be moved.